Compiled by Sri Ramakrishna Prasad – Chennai

Tamil Nadu has a lot of poets, siddhars, sages and many wise men who have left behind their experiences as the great wealth that future generations to learn and follow. However, Pattinathaar is unique in his own way.

Saint Pattinathar was born in a wealthy family and yet he turned to be a Sanyasi. He was known also as Thiruvenkadar. It was said that even when he was a youth, Lord Siva appeared in his dream and directed him to go to Thiruvengadu, where he would meet his Guru. Pattinathar has given us his experience and wisdom in the form of hyms. His works include Thirukazhumala Mummanikkovai, Thiruvidai Marudhur Mummanikkovai, Thiruvegambamudaiyar Thiruvandhaadhi and Thiruvottriyur Orupa Orupadhu.

Pattinathar was born in Kaveripumpattinam in a very wealthy family. His parents were Sivanesan Chettiar and Gnanakalai Aachi. They were so wealthy, that in those days it was a customary that kings of the various dynasties and empires who rose to the throne will be crowned by the wealthiest in the country. And for three generations or more, Pattinathar’s ancestors have crowned the kings in the Chera, Chola, Pandya and the Pallava Kingdoms. That would give us an understanding of how wealthy their family should have been. They had a lot of ships that sailed across to various countries in the globe for trade purposes.

As a child, he spent most of his time playing and studies was a far distant thing to him. Pattinathar’s father was worried that his son does not study well, but his mother convinced him that they had wealth that would feed more than 10 generations, so why worry about their son not studying. A few years later, Pattinathar’s father died and his mother had to take care of business. Though she was able to manage that, her brother – Pattinathar’s maternal uncle – gave her a helping hand and looked after the business.

Being born in the lineage of traders, he had the skills for trade. He wanted to venture into the seas to get more hands-on experience about trade across the oceans. He became well-versed and later he was married to a girl named Sivakavi at the age of 16. Over the years, he grew to be a man who could handle businesses himself and became the wealthiest trader in Kaveripoompattinam. Thereafter he was referred to as Pattinathu Chetty or Pattinathar.

Even after fifteen years of marriage they had no children. Meantime there was a very poor Saivaite by the name of Sivasarumar who spent all his wealth in feeding the Siva devotees. When all his wealth was spent he sold his wife’s nuptial chain (Mangalyam) and fed the devotees of Lord Siva. Once in his dream, Lord Siva appeared and told him, he would find him (Siva) as a baby at a certain spot. “Hand over the baby boy to Thiruvenkadar. He would give gold equal to the weight of the baby. The Saivaite devotees found the baby and took him to Pattinathar. He adopted the child and gave the couple, gold and more wealth.”

The divine child grew up and followed in his father’s footsteps. Once the father sent him on a ship with a good lot of merchandise and when he came he brought back sacks full of paddy husks. The father was angry and locked him up in a room and going to the harbor, threw the husks out. What was his surprise to see they were all gold; Every dried piece of the husk turned out to be gold and precious gems. He hurried home to see his son. He was not in the room. His wife gave him a small box the son had given before he disappeared. In it was an Palm-leaf manuscript and a needle without an eyelet. On the script were the following words (in English for understanding):

“Not even an eyeless needle will accompany you in the final journey of life.”

Pattinathar(Thiruvenkadar) realized the philosophy and wisdom of the words, and renounced everything – his wife, his wealth, his kith and kin and all other mundane attachments. With only a loin cloth he left. From then on Pattinathaar went on to the temples in the nearby towns and sang in praise of Lord Shiva in those temples.He sang many a philosophical song to enlighten people on the blissful state of renunciation. He sang about the human life and its complex dimensions, made his lyrics more appealing to the common man. He urged repeatedly not to be attached to the body and its pleasures, for the body which perishes and becomes food for animals and worms. Think of God and surrender at God’s feet.

Pattinathar worshiped Shiva at the Srikalahasti temple, which has inspired great poetic and musical works. Once while Pattinathar was playing with the cowherd boys at Thiruvotriyur, he disappeared from the spot and attained Siva Sayujyam, the final liberation of the soul and turned into a Shiva lingam. It is said that the relatives including his wife came to the spot where Pattinathar attained mukthi and offered their devotion. The samadhi [attained salvation in this place] of Pattinathar is a historic landmark located on the Ennore Expressway in Tiruvottiyur, Chennai. It is around 500 years old.